Commitment, creativity and astute legal skills: the new director of Liberty is an ideal choice for the role
Martha Spurrier has long been recognised by the legal world as a rising star (indeed, she was the subject of an ‘In praise of’ piece in May 2015 Legal Action 6). Yet this alone could not account for the Twittersphere buzzing with praise for the decision to appoint her, a 30-year-old human rights barrister from Doughty Street Chambers, to succeed Shami Chakrabarti as the director of Liberty.
It was not just the range of adjectives (awesome, superb, brilliant), but the stunning array of organisations that were able to express pride in the appointment, with Public Law Project and Rights of Women topping the list. The genuine pleasure at her appointment expressed from so many individuals and grassroots organisations is a testament to her absolute commitment to equality before the law and the need to go beyond the usual lawyerly avenues to achieve that. It is this creativity, on top of her astute legal skills, that makes her an ideal choice for the role she has taken on.
Frances Butler, chair of Liberty, welcomed her appointment as the unanimous choice to lead the organisation. She said: ‘She is a compelling and fearless campaigner with energy, gravitas, a first-class mind and a quick wit. We are confident that, under Martha’s leadership, Liberty will continue to vigorously and successfully champion all our rights and freedoms.’
Most legal aid practitioners know Martha for her tireless work on public law challenges to vicious legal aid cuts, including the regulations curtailing funding in judicial review and prison law cases. However, she has also specialised in inquest work. She was counsel at the inquest for the family of Kesia, a 17-year-old girl who tragically died following her detention at a police station. The only woman among nine barristers, she secured findings that have had ramifications for how the police treat 17-year-olds.
Martha has also worked on a number of high-profile interventions before the Supreme Court, including the landmark case of P v Cheshire West and Chester Council  UKSC 19 on deprivation of liberty and R (Bourgass and another) v Secretary of State for Justice  UKSC 54 on the procedural safeguards owed to prisoners in segregation. More recently, she helped set up the successful Act for the Act campaign, which is behind the posters on the tube and elsewhere that demonstrate that the Human Rights Act is an important safeguard for ordinary people.
There is no doubt that she will bring her wit and creativity to the role of director of Liberty at a time when, as she has said, the need to fearlessly confront state power is greater than ever. ■